IBM and EKZ work on app to charge e-cars remotely

13 Oct 2011

IBM and utility provider, EKZ, demonstrate a smartphone app to charge electric vehicles remotely

Technology giant IBM and electricity utility provider of the Canton of Zurich, Switzerland, EKZ, have teamed up on a pilot project that will allow consumers to charge electric vehicles and monitor their energy costs via an mobile devices.

The project combines a web-based app designed and developed by IBM scientists in Zurich and a data recording device created by the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW). The device, about the size of a phonebook, was installed in several electric vehicles to collect information on the vehicle’s battery charge level, location and power source.

The device transmits the data via a cellular network to an IBM cloud. This monitoring capability not only benefits the user but also offers utility providers further insight into energy generation and consumption. 

“Electric vehicles can be used to buffer the irregular production of electricity from future renewable sources, which will contribute to the overall stability of the electrical network,” said Peter Franken, head of the Energy Distribution department of EKZ and executive management member.

“With this project, we can show how electric vehicles can create a balance between supply and demand for smarter energy grids.” 

The IBM app runs on most smartphones, tablets and web browsers, and provides an integration point between the vehicle, the utility provider and the driver. Using a four-button interface, the app shows the vehicle’s battery level, range of travel distance, vehicle location, charge schedule and current energy costs in real time.  

Dieter Gantenbein, leader of the Smart Grid research project at IBM Research – Zurich, said the service will make electric vehicles more attractive to consumers by taking into consideration their preferences while taking cost and convenience into account.

One-click charging

No matter where they are, electric vehicle owners can consult their mobile devices to check the batter power level on their vehicle. The app can also be programmed to start charging the battery at a future point in time, for example, when rates are lowest or when a trip is planned. 

In addition, the IBM app allows vehicle owners to delegate the responsibility of recharging the battery to the utility provider, which can schedule charges based on the availability of renewable resources, such as sun and wind, allowing the utility to improve load balancing and prevent outages. EKZ believes this will be a value-added service that will gain more significance as electric vehicles become prevalent.  

To analyse the programmed charging process of electric vehicles with renewable energy, the pilot project takes real-time production data from photovoltaic solar panels at EKZ’s facility in Dietikon, which then is transmitted to the cloud service. In this charge mode, the electric vehicle is charged when solar electricity is being produced. If less solar energy is being generated, the charging process can adapt automatically.